Pain is an unpleasant sensation, so we should not be surprised that humans have always searched for ways to alleviate it.

As long ago as the Stone Age, extracts from leaves of the henbane plant were used to dull pain.

The Ancient Greeks used me, the opium poppy. They cultivated me to harvest oil from my seeds, which have mildly sedative effects.

Later on they also discovered the white latex sap that drips out if the unripe seed capsule is cut, and which has a much stronger sedative effect.

They used it to treat asthma, stomach illnesses, and poor eyesight.

For a long time it was unclear what part of my milky sap had these effects. It was 1805 before the active ingredient was successfully isolated, by the German pharmacist Friedrich Sertürner.

He called it ‘morphium’, after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams.